With one tournament in the books, the ISU women’s volleyball team defended home court, picking up a trio of victories in its spring debut.
At Hilton Coliseum on April 5, the Cyclones hosted Nebraska-Kearney, Nebraska-Omaha and Northern Iowa in a two-court, three-match tournament.
The Cyclones won eight out of nine sets played, aided by what ISU coach Christy Johnson-Lynch described as a faster-paced offense this season.
“Our offense — when we were in-system, when the ball was to center — was really, really good,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We’ve been working on a faster tempo offense; I thought that looked terrific.”
Iowa State was down early in a few sets in the opening two matches against Nebraska-Omaha and Nebraska-Kearney, but was able to rally to earn two sweeps.
Johnson-Lynch was pleased with her team’s ability to bounce back, but hopes the Cyclones can pick up the intensity earlier in sets.
“I thought they played hard at the end when their backs were against the wall, but we’ve got to recognize how to turn it up a little sooner,” Johnson-Lynch said. “If we would’ve played with more urgency early on in the match, perhaps we wouldn’t have to come back.”
In the third and final match, the Cyclones faced some adversity, losing their first set of the day in the second set against the Panthers. All three sets were back-and-forth contests, but Iowa State made a late surge to notch a 2-1 win against its in-state rival.
“We had a big match with them last fall and I feel like we knew we should win, but once that battle goes back and forth, I feel like that makes it a million times more intense,” said sophomore outside hitter Ciara Capezio.
Capezio, an All-Big 12 freshman player last year, was questionable to play due to offseason recovery for her foot that lasted up until last week after requiring surgery for Morton Neuroma.
“I honestly did not think I was going to be back because I wasn’t supposed to be cleared [to practice] until this past Thursday,” Capezio said. “I started a week and a half early with passing and this week I just started jumping.”
Both player and coach agree that there is still rust to shake off, but Johnson-Lynch was excited in what she saw in Capezio’s limited playing time.
“She’s a little rusty, there’s things I see that normally she doesn’t do, but I thought she looked really good and pretty pain-free,” Johnson-Lynch said. “That’s what’s so exciting, she really hobbled through the end of the season with a lot of pain, so we’re all really excited that she feels good.”
At outside hitter, Capezio is expected to be one of Iowa State’s top performers in the fall, but the Cyclones do still have voids to fill at libero, middle blocker and setter.
Junior Caitlin Nolan received heavy reps at libero and is slated to be the starter next fall.
On the front line, Johnson said she was pleased with the play from her younger players.
“We’re blocking better, it’s a big goal to block more balls and I thought that looked better,” Johnson-Lynch said.
Redshirt sophomore Natalie Vondrak and redshirt freshmen Maria Fruechte and Samara West all shared time at the position, replacing graduating senior Tenisha Matlock. Redshirt junior Tory Knuth, the most experienced returning middle blocker, is sidelined for the spring season after offseason arm surgery.
Freshman Monique Harris, incoming sophomore transfer from Mississippi State Suzanne Horner and senior Taylor Goetz shared time at setter in the three matches.
Johnson-Lynch said she thought Horner was a little nervous to begin her first match with Iowa State, but post-match Johnson-Lynch saw improvement in Horner, as well in Goetz and Harris.
“I thought our setters got better as the day went on and looked comfortable,” Johnson-Lynch said.
Iowa State will compete next at an eight-team tournament hosted by Northern Iowa on April 12.